This week we’re behind the scenes with Abby Garrison, the leader behind #CHAGives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Here’s what Abby had to say about her experience so far championing #CHAGives.



Q: Abby, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, and how did you get involved with the social good world?

Abby: I was born and raised in Chattanooga but was gone for most of my twenties. I moved away to attend college at Princeton and then moved to San Francisco for work. I went home to go to graduate school at UNC where I got an MBA and Masters in Regional Planning, both with a focus on real estate. I ended up back in Chattanooga working at one of our legacy nonprofits called Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE) that focuses on neighborhood revitalization, affordable real estate development, and community engagement, and through this work I got involved with the social good world.

Q: What inspired you to get involved in #GivingTuesday?

Abby: CNE was an early private-public partnership, funded almost exclusively through foundations, businesses, and local government. It hadn’t really developed much of an individual giving program, but when I started with CNE the organization began ramping up individual fundraising. The first time I heard about #GivingTuesday would have been in 2013. It was a nascent movement at the time and we decided, as CNE, to take a stab at it because it seemed like a fresh way to do outreach and build an individual donor base. We didn’t raise a ton of money but it was good for raising our profile and trying something new. In 2014 I moved to Causeway, which is a capacity-building organisation. We started as a hyper-local crowdfunding platform, and we essentially help people design and implement their own solutions to local problems. Causeway’s founding team had always dreamt of organizing a city-wide giving day, so it just made sense for us to take on that leadership role of building #GivingTuesday in our community. We were also inspired by the Bmore Gives More movement in Baltimore.

Q: What has worked well for #CHAGives so far?

Abby: For us, it’s been helpful having organizing partners who are natural conveners to help us build the movement. It’s definitely a day where the community comes together, but it’s good to have a couple of “neutral” partners in the local philanthropic space helping to spearhead things. For us, that’s primarily been Causeway, United Way of Greater Chattanooga, and the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga. United Way has deep relationships with traditional media and businesses, and they have scale in terms of size and scope, while the Community Foundation has close ties with other foundations and major donors. Causeway has strength in our social media presence, creativity, and a close relationship with Chattanooga’s startup community. Together, our networks and strengths are complementary, so it’s really been a productive partnership.

Q: What challenges have you faced in getting #GivingTuesday in Chattanooga off the ground?

Abby: As wonderful as partnerships can be, the logistics of working with multiple committee members from different organisations can be challenging. Also, one of the common sentiments from the local nonprofit community tends to be “isn’t #GivingTuesday just shifting donations around--is it really adding to the bottom line?” To tackle this, the data we got from the global team last year has been really helpful to showcase the benefits of participating in #GivingTuesday throughout the giving season. Showing the data and telling the stories of how #GivingTuesday adds to the pie, rather than just cutting the pie differently, has been crucial to recruiting new nonprofits.

Q: What's the potential or impact of the movement in Chattanooga?

Abby: The impact from a financial standpoint is pretty clear. We raised $100,000 in Year 1, $200,000 in Year 2, and almost $500,000 in Year 3. Even more exciting is the fact that Chattanooga is a city undergoing a lot of change. We have an exciting Innovation District downtown with a strong startup community, outside investments are being made and a rising national profile as a great place to live. At the same time, there’s also an understanding of the structural inequity and lack of opportunity that surrounds our poor neighborhoods. There’s a growing call to action for major change on how we tackle the big, entrenched issues. There’s also this generational shift of wealth going on, with all the typical differences in preferences and expectations you see elsewhere across the country. To me the intersection of those two things is the big opportunity for #CHAgives; understanding how we can transition Chattanooga from our ingrained old ways of problem solving and fundraising into a more dynamic relationship between a cause, its solution, and its supporters. I see #GivingTuesday as a great platform for this, as well as a microcosm of all these changes.

Q: What is one of your favourite #GivingTuesday stories?

Abby: My favourite thing that I look forward to, personally, has been the pop-up zoo that Chattanooga Zoo has done in our downtown park. Another favorite is Glass House Collective. Their work focuses on bringing attention and investment back to a part of town that’s historically underinvested. Last year on #GivingTuesday, they did an amazing job of recruiting restaurant partners, and organized a restaurant crawl throughout the day. Their social media is always fun and engaging, and they saw great traffic and giveback opportunities through restaurant engagement.

Q: What are you most looking forward to for #GivingTuesday 2018?

Abby: With three years of track record and momentum, we’re getting more of the local nonprofits on board. We don’t have to spend as much time making the case for #GivingTuesday and can spend more time on better execution. This year, we were able to invite some of our all-star nonprofits to be a part of the planning committee, so we’re looking forward to having some fresh ideas on the team!

Q: One of the reasons the #GivingTuesday movement has been so successful globally is because of the vision and leadership of country and community leaders like you, who step up in the name of social good. What does leadership mean to you?

Abby: #CHAGives has taught me about the importance of sticking to a vision as a leader and really charting towards it. While it is certainly a community effort, I think that Causeway has done a great job at championing it and continuing to find the commitment to stay the course even if we don’t always see the immediate payoff locally. From a leadership standpoint we have had to really stay committed—adjust as we go and navigate the challenges we encounter—but stay the course.

Q: Do you have any advice for leaders thinking about starting a #GivingTuesday movement in their country or city?

Abby: I think that causes and movements live and die by the people who are behind them. It really only takes a couple of people to raise that flag within your organization or community. Anyone can organize this, it’s just a matter of finding the time and doing it. I also think it’s important to know your own strengths and weaknesses in order to surround yourself with the best team. For example, I don’t love going on TV, so it’s important to have partners on board who are peppy and great at that kind of thing.

Q: What is a quote by one of your favourite leaders? Or Who is someone you admire for their vision and leadership and why?

Abby: We have this wonderful quote up on our wall at Causeway by Abraham Lincoln that I just love: “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”


Abby is the Executive Director @Causeway. Using an entrepreneurial approach, Causeway inspires and equips Chattanoogans to develop smarter solutions to our city's toughest challenges.